How to Fill a Space with the Beauty of Peace


“Filling a space in a beautiful way.

That’s what art means to me.”

Georgia O’Keeffe

When the artist Georgia O’Keeffe wrote about “filling a space,” was she referring to the space of a canvas? Or to her studio where she painted? Or to a gallery where art was displayed? I don’t know. Maybe all three. But the simplicity and grace of O’Keeffe’s definition of art connects with me. Maybe because I’ve wandered through galleries, worked with fellow-artists in a studio setting, and filled blank spaces of canvas and paper with whatever beauty I can summon from my own soul.

I was struck this week with a realization: In the midst of all our world’s crazy and horrible and dangerous and questionable events – and the responses to those events – the earth just keeps blooming and fading and offering itself, usually in the background quietly and steadily, sometimes as the main attraction, thundering, blustering, flaming, and flooding. No matter what we humans do, no matter how oblivious we are, nature finds a way to keep budding in cracks and crevices, to keep nesting in rafters or ruins, to keep shining and shading year after year. To keep filling space in a beautiful way.

I think it’s possible for us to join that calm beauty, not just surviving but thriving. I think it’s possible for each of us to be a space full of beauty, full of calmness, full of peace. I think it’s possible to carry that calm within us wherever we go, so that every physical space we step into is filled with beauty and peace simply because of our presence. Each of us is a piece of art. Each of us can be the beauty of peace amid the chaos.

But disturbing news keeps raining down on us so hard and fast, it’s hard to keep our heads above the floodwater. How do we fill ourselves with the beauty of peace so that we can become peace for the world?

First, we need to realize a wise and gracious truth that Frederick Buechner expressed perfectly in his novel Godric: “. . . all the death that ever was, set next to life, would scarcely fill a cup.” All the ugliness that ever was, all the unkindness, all the destruction fade to insignificance next to beauty and kindness and creation.

Second, we need a way to center our souls on peace when we get jolted out of joint by the chaos around us. In my last post, I mentioned seeing worry as a helium balloon that we can let go of, letting it sail away. Here I offer you another practice to try: HALF it. When one of my grandsons was struggling with anger, I guided him through this process. It can be done anywhere. HALF is an acronym for Hands, Abdomen, Lungs, Face. When you find yourself tense from worry or anger or stress, focus for a second on your hands. They’re often curled in fists. How about your abdomen? Is it tight or jittery? How about your lungs? Your breathing is probably shallow. And your face? Jaws clenched? Scowling? Eyes narrowed? Take that tension and HALF it.

Hands, relax. Shake them if you need to.

Abdomen, relax. Soften your belly.

Lungs, relax. Breath deeply through your nose. Blow out slowly through your mouth.

Face, relax. Unclench your teeth and jaw. Raise your eyebrows. Blink and refocus.

Still tense? HALF it again. And again. And again if necessary. Because what we need is the calmness to think logically and wisely about whatever is causing the tension, worry, anger, and stress. What we need is to fill the space of our inner self with the beauty of peace so that we can carry that beauty wherever we go.

As I was thinking about HALFing tension and inviting peace, I thought of the line “If you can keep your head,” which is from Rudyard Kipling‘s famous poem “If –.” Kipling was familiar with a chaotic world. Although he wrote these words in 1910, they feel timely today. Here it is:

If –

by Rudyard Kipling

If you can keep your head when all about you

Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,

If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,

But make allowance for their doubting too;

If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,

Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,

Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,

And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:

If you can dream—and not make dreams your master;

If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim;

If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster

And treat those two impostors just the same;

If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken

Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,

Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,

And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools:

If you can make one heap of all your winnings

And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,

And lose, and start again at your beginnings

And never breathe a word about your loss;

If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew

To serve your turn long after they are gone,

And so hold on when there is nothing in you

Except the Will which says to them: ‘Hold on!’

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,

Or walk with Kings—nor lose the common touch;

If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,

If all men count with you, but none too much;

If you can fill the unforgiving minute

With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,

Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,

And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son!

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Text and photos of Karyn Henley art and dandelion © 2018 Karyn Henley. All rights reserved.

All other photos courtesy